An economy built on farming
In the early 20th century, the Prairie region was being populated and agriculture was growing. In just a few years, wheat had become the foundation of the Prairie economy. By 1900, it was Canada’s largest export product, destined primarily for the markets of Great Britain and the United States. From 1896 to 1911, the number of exported bushels of wheat jumped from 8 to 75 million.
This type of farming was very demanding. Farmers had to plough and sow the fields early in the spring after the snow had melted. Come late summer, it was time to harvest: The wheat was reaped and the stalks were bundled into heads of grain. Although binders made this work easier, it was still difficult. The sheaves were then brought to the threshing machine which extracted the grain. Farmers then had to bring the grain to the closest elevator. Grain elevators were built alongside railway tracks, because grain had to be moved to major Canadian and U.S. ports, including Montréal.
Prairie farming, which took place in a semi-arid region receiving little rain, was different from the farming of the eastern provinces. Since there was little rain, light ploughing was recommended to keep the soil moist. So was letting the land lie fallow; in other words, cultivating only part of the land and leaving the remainder at rest so that it can regenerate.
Shortly after 1905, a solution to the short growing season was found: Marquis Wheat—a new wheat variety that had been developed by the federal government. This wheat matured earlier and was more productive. Farmers no longer had to worry so much about losing their entire crop due to an early frost at the end of August, which is not uncommon in this region.
Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social
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